This Matter of Balance

How do you tell the difference between a good wine, (i.e., a well made wine), and a poor one? When a popular T.V. detective asked this question while research­ing a homicide case involving win­ery principals, the merchant whom he had asked, looked down at him from over his bifocals and haughti­ly replied, “The price, sir!” Need­less to say, the Lieutenant nailed the guilty party, despite having been fed this amusing bit of misin­formation.

At WOMC we know first-hand that quality does not automatically rise in direct proportion to price. What, then, determines the real quality of a wine?

The key to the answer lies in that somewhat elusive characteris­tic of wine called balance. Wine tasters mention that such-and-such a wine is “well-balanced”, while another has a component that is “out of balance.” Proper balance for a given wine has to be deter­mined not only for the category of wine, (e.g.; sherry, burgundy, blush), but for the individual wine in question, this year’s vintage of Chateau Malaprop, for instance.

To break balance down into its basics, let’s look at the main com­ponents of wine. These are: color (pale, medium or dark); nose (aro­ma and bouquet); texture (the mouth-feel of the wine); sweetness (or dryness); acidity (tartness or the lack of it); alcohol content (whether strong or mild); carbona­tion (or the lack of it); and tannin (…that straight-black-tea-on-your­-tongue sort of taste). If any one of these components should dominate the palate too preemptively, it ren­ders the wine out of balance.

A winemaker strives to proportion the above components into a palate pleasing whole. Moreover, in wine, what’s sauce for the goose is not always sauce for the gander. A full-bodied dry red Zin­fandel, for instance, can take gobs of raspberry-like fruit flavors and be very much in balance. But an overabundance of berries would flaw a Cabernet; it’s inappropriate.

Let’s look at some examples of good balance. A German Riesling Kabinett (see last month’s #392B) offers a pale color, a delicate, flowery nose, delicate lightness of body (very, very smooth), low alcohol, no carbonation (some Ries­lings have a little), a touch of sweetness, a refreshing tartness and no appreciable tannin. A good California Cabernet usually offers a dark color, big complex nose, rich, full body, around 13% alco­hol, no sweetness, plus abundant acidity and tannin (for aging poten­tial). But, I’ve tasted quite a few wonderful Cabernets that weren’t full-bodied, yet all the ingredients were there, all the same, each in the right amount.

A balanced wine, no matter what its price range, will have all the appropriate components in correct proportions for that particular wine. What’s more, it’ll taste bet­ter, too!

P.K. Jr.

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